How I Didn’t Die of Cancer

Hey, I’m back with another episode in these gruesome series. And now it didn’t even take over two months since the last one! How about making this a tradition? One post a week, every Friday? Or should I rather say #GruesomeFriday? Yeah, why not. Let’s see if I’ll be able to keep up with such a scary-regular schedule. I probably won’t, but challenges are good for boosting discipline (until the discipline gets lost, wandering somewhere in the dark woods of digression, like it just did).

Back to the story of my madness. If you read the first two episodes, you know a couple of months passed between my first and second death. And if you ever noticed that blurb up by the title of this whole space, you might suspect the second death wasn’t the last.

So what was killing me this time? The scariest monster of them all. After the stroke and heart failure didn’t get me, cancer kicked in big time. I went in and out of remission pretty much every week for the first half of 2017. Usually one terminal illness was after me at a time. On particularly gloomy days, however, I had three or more different types of malignant neoplasms sending their metastatic tendrils through my ravaged body.

Have you ever wondered how cancer feels? I have, for reasons that I may explain later in these series. What is important here and now is this. I suspect those oncological contemplations of mine largely contributed to the bout of deaths that are the subject of this post. Let’s get to it then.

Bottom might be as good place to start as any. One day I sat at my office desk, hunching over the keyboard and typing my mind away without a break for much longer than I really should have. When my bloating bladder made me rise at last, weird pain stabbed me in the groin. It was as if somebody stuffed a hedgehog deep inside my upper thigh, real close to my underbelly. I wondered, could it be coming from my balls? I shook it off and went to the loo, then back to whatever I was so busy with. The next morning, however, the pain was still with me, worse and shifting, as if coming more from my lower back this time. I couldn’t stop thinking about what the hell was going on. By noon I was digging deep through Wikipedia, searching for possible explanations of my symptoms. It took a while, but the conclusion was clear. I was being killed by a rare combo of testicular and kidney cancer.

When the aching loins and groins gave me a break for a week or two, it was a mystery. I wondered, how come I’m not dying yet? Luckily I was quick to find another thing to make me busy. My chest started to feel kind of tight all day long, as if I could never get a proper breath. I also had this dry cough that didn’t bring any relief. Wikipedia wasn’t enough this time. I went to PubMed, searched through the millions of biomedical articles there. Those doctors who wrote them sure know better than a smart-ass encyclopedia crowd, I thought. And what a good idea it was! The search confirmed what I had suspected already. Lung cancer. And why not? I used to smoke when I was a student. Having pretty limited budget back then, I didn’t shy away from stuff like hand-rolled fags from discarded butts, and I seldom bothered with filters. I could suddenly feel the taste of all that brownish muck lodged deep down in my chest. Every night I was locked in surreal visions. A tarry film was dripping down the walls of our dark bedroom that somehow looked just like the cavernous insides of my lungs. Sickly yellow tissue swelled and bulged under that liquefied ashtray grime. I could even hear the cancer as it munched through my flesh.

Few weeks later I got very confused. The results of my chest scan came, and there was nothing out of ordinary. My lungs were perfectly healthy. But the strangeness of such a finding didn’t bother me for too long. First I noticed my voice sounded kind of different. Even more bassy than usual, and sort of raspy at times. The next day my neck got tight somewhere deep on the left side. It hurt, as if someone was thrusting an invisible red-hot knife into my flesh there. It was sinking slowly, hair’s breadth a minute, torturing me for hours on end. At night, there was a lump sitting right where the pain burned during the day. I felt the surfaces of the tubes that ran down my neck, all bloated and stuck together. Swallowing got difficult. Sometimes I was worried I won’t be able to take the next breath, with barely any air passing through my clogged throat. As usual, the diagnosis didn’t take long. A minute of staring into the pallid phone screen in the small hours of the morning was enough. Another cancer. The upper esophagus, or maybe larynx this time. Whatever it was, the stage had to be advanced if I could feel the lump already. For all I knew, it was killing me at dozen other places as well. Those metastases were just not big enough to give me hard time yet.

When the death was taking its sweet time once again, inexplicable headaches came. The pain was often nailing me down like a spear driven right through my skull. I also felt dizzy more often than not. I wondered if it could be related to the ringing I heard in my ears pretty much all the time. Some days even my vision was all blurry. Brain cancer was the first suspect, but then I thought again. How about a secondary tumour? There was this lesion on my right cheek that sure hadn’t been there few years back. That was it. Melanoma, terminal stage. Whenever I looked into mirror, I saw the little blot on my face spreading through my body. It was like a tiny spider at the center of a web that would soon smother all I ever was.

All right, that’s enough. I could keep going for hours, but I think you’ve got the picture by now. I was seriously messed up back in 2017. And I was thinking my smarts could explain what was going on. Which was rather stupid, of course. Even if I was the smartest person in the world (which I am not, by far), I don’t really expect anymore that thinking would save me from another intense bout of generalised anxiety disorder (also called GAD for short). The way I see it now, it’s exactly the other way around. When the anxiety strikes the way it did for me, thinking seems to be about the worst thing to do. Well, maybe the second worst after obsessive web searches (hello, Doctor Google).

What should you do then if you’re unlucky enough to suffer the way I did? Hard to tell. Different things will work for different people. But I guess it wouldn’t hurt to start with this:

  • Find someone who might be able to put things in the right perspective.
  • Let them bear the load of crap with you. It may require a lot of bravery on either side, and more than a little embarrassment, but better that than cancer, right?

Who might that magic someone be? It’s great to bring in your partner if you dare. Or parent, if you dare even more. Telling a real doctor can too be rather helpful, of course. But one must be really honest with them, like I mentioned already before.

Had I followed this advice, I might have learned a lot of useful things months before it all hit me the hard way. For instance, now I know that headache, dizziness, sensation of a lump in the neck, tight chest, difficulties breathing, non-specific body pains, etc., can very well be symptoms of severe anxiety. And one sober slash of the Occam’s razor wisely suggests that such a diagnosis is much more likely than terminal cancer (especially when the symptoms tend to appear out of the blue and pretty much all at once).

Too bad I learned about this GAD bastard much later than I should have. Even without that, however, the cancers ebbed away. I simply ran out of them at some stage. Which doesn’t mean I stopped dying. Not at all. But that’s a story for another time.


The feature image is a low-resolution, Public Domain reproduction of the Wheatfield with Crows painting by Vincent Van Gogh. It originally comes from Wikimedia Commons where more information on the painting, the reproduction and the sharing conditions can be found.

8 thoughts on “How I Didn’t Die of Cancer

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